Flying is stressful on the best days. You could wake up at 3 a.m. to catch a 6:30 a.m. flight, sit in traffic en route to the airport, or endure long lines at security. Throwing a global health crisis into the mix adds a whole set of challenges for travelers. What should passengers expect before flying in 2020?
If you choose to fly soon, know that some normal procedures changed because of the COVID-19 outbreak. Travelers should also take extra precautions to stay safe as they prepare for takeoff.
Transmission rates may be lower in the air. Viruses and germs do not spread easily on flights “because of how air circulates and is filtered on airplanes,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website stated.
However, passengers should remember if a flight is crowded, it is difficult to practice social distancing. “Sitting within 6 feet of others, sometimes for hours, may increase your risk of getting COVID-19,” the CDC website stated.
Demand for airline travel is much lower this year, with U.S. airline passenger traffic estimated to decrease by 60 percent in 2020, compared with 2019 levels, according to the industry website, Airlines for America. However, several airlines globally also restructured or ceased operations, according to Airlines for America, so anticipating crowds and travel demand is difficult this year.
As a result of the reduced flight and passenger volumes, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has consolidated its screening operations, including closing some security checkpoints and redirecting passengers to other checkpoints, according to the TSA website. If you travel, keep this in mind and arrive earlier than usual to accommodate any changes.
Before you go, consider how you will get to and from the airport. Are you planning to take an Uber to the airport? You might want to reconsider. According to the CDC, taking public transportation or using a ridesharing service can increase your chances of being exposed to COVID-19.
Once you arrive at the airport, wear a cloth face covering, and maintain a distance of six feet between other people, according to CDC recommendations. Travelers should also avoid crowds, cover coughs and sneezes, avoid touching their eyes, nose, and mouth, and wash their hands often.
Expect to wear a face covering throughout the airport and also on the flight. According to information from the academic medical center, the Mayo Clinic, most major airlines in the United States require crews and passengers to wear cloth face coverings.
Travelers should also note that TSA processes and security lines also changed as a result of COVID-19. According to the TSA website, these changes include increasing the cleaning and disinfecting of equipment and surfaces at screening checkpoints, requiring TSA officers to wear masks and gloves, practicing social distancing, and changing gloves after each pat-down.
Additionally, TSA is attempting to reduce direct contact with its employees and travelers, is increasing the distance between passengers in security checkpoint lines, and is staggering security checkpoint lanes, when possible. The TSA is also installing acrylic barriers throughout the checkpoints in places where passengers and TSA officers interact, according to the TSA website.
Passengers are permitted to bring up to 12 ounces of liquid hand sanitizer per person in carry-on bags. However, travelers should know that because these containers are larger than what is usually allowed, they are screened separately. During the screening process, passengers will also wear a face covering but may be asked to adjust or remove it to verify their identities.
When showing TSA officers your boarding pass, place the pass directly on the scanner or hold it up to the officer, instead of handing the boarding pass to the officer.
Happy travels! Remember to check the health and safety requirements of the areas you are traveling to, as different states may have testing requirements, stay-at-home orders, or quarantine requirements, according to the CDC website.